The Masters, golf’s greatest PGA tournament tees off in Augusta, GA this week and one of the south’s favorites, Bubba Watson, talks about the “mental” side of playing, surviving and winning.
After beginning the week by telling the world he’s essentially scared of life, Watson let on Tuesday that he’d spent nearly 30 consecutive hours in bed with a sinus infection, that he threw up on cue when a doctor checked on him and for all those folks who seem to have a hard time liking him, hey, he’s working on it.
And there’s also some golf he intends to play over the next few days.
“This place energizes you quite nicely,” he said.
Under the prominent live oak in front of Augusta National’s clubhouse, Watson delivered a State of the Bubba deposition following a practice round. (In a departure from protocol, he declined an invitation to speak at the media center.) With the 80th Masters at hand, he said he has not seen the greens so fast so early in the week and he feels about 80 percent recovered from his sinus problem.
But he also gave some spin to his segment on Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” when the program delved into Watson’s sometimes perplexing, sometimes nettlesome, sometimes touching personality. The program described Bubba Golf as “a dash of juvenile, a dash of genius, and a full cup of cocky.”
Watson described the program almost as a self-help exercise.
“I think it was good to show the issues that I have,” he said. “There’s issues you got that I don’t have. There’s issues I got that you don’t have. Mine just happen to be with cameras in my face. … They come out in the light.
“Like I’ve always said, I’m trying to get better as a person. I could care less about golf. If I’m the best golfer in the world, that’s not going to do anything if nobody likes me, if my kids aren’t taken care of, and if my wife’s not taken care of and I’m not treating my wife the way I should treat my wife. Then who cares what kind of golfer I am?”
Among other revelations, his caddie, Teddy Scott, told him the reason people disliked him is “because you’re nuts.” The first time he had ever hugged his father, Gerry, was when he learned he had cancer in 2010. Gerry died four months later. And Watson, even in the middle of a golf course, can get claustrophobic.
“I have a lot of mental issues that I am so fearful of things, which I shouldn’t be, right?” he told the program. “Scared of heights. Scared of buildings falling on me. Scared of the dark. Scared of crowds. Those are my biggest issues.”
So much for a stress-free Masters week. As he vies to become the ninth player to win here at least three times — the last to do so: Phil Mickelson — the growing wonder now might be how he ever won a Masters in the first place. Despite an excellent lead-in to this tournament — Watson currently is No. 4 in the world ranking — Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day seem to be leading the field in buzz.
“You talk about the big three or four, and Bubba Watson is the one who gets left out,” the Golf Channel’s Notah Begay said on a media conference call last week. “I think he gets overlooked simply because he’s not in that younger category.”
At 37, Watson long ago stopped being the kid who couldn’t crack the starting lineup on some excellent teams at the University of Georgia. With nine career victories, he has tossed around the idea about retiring after he wins a 10th. But his ability to rise to the moment, particularly at Augusta, remains a known quantity.
“If you ever look at my career, the tougher the situation, it always seems like I come to the top because of that hyper-focus, I guess you could say,” he said. “When I’ve been in trouble, I’ve been able to hit some shots that don’t seem doable, and I think that’s just because of hyper-focus. I get so zoned in that I can pull some of these shots off. Getting here, you get excited.”
Of course, he remains an overwhelming rooting interest at this place, where Red and Black runs deep. But he said he’s also learned about the unstable nature of public opinion. It just doesn’t mean as much.
“I’m not worried about other people,” he said. “I’ve had so much bad press written about me — good or bad, true or not — listen, I’m over it. I’m not trying to impress any of the people. It took me a while to learn that. It took me a while to learn what’s most important in life and hopefully, I’m getting better at that.”
His 2016 portfolio is strong. In seven events thus far, he won in Los Angeles, was second at Doral and finished in the top 25 four times. Over his past two tournaments, he was 26 under par. He is currently 10th in scoring on the PGA Tour (70.029).
But he’s never spilled his guts like this in his 16 years as a pro. Jeer him or cheer him this weekend, Bubba said not to worry about Bubba.
“I’m totally at peace,” he said. “I won two Masters. I’m not worried any more.”
Turned pro: 2000
How qualified: Former Masters champion
Best Masters finish: First (2012, 2014)
Best stat this season: Greens hit in regulation (75 percent, 1st)
This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.